"Hospital, insure thyself"

"The cost of health insurance keeps going up - even for the people who provide the care.Whidbey General Hospital employees may soon be faced with a choice of staying with their existing health insurance company, which just hit them with a 30 percent increase in premiums, or a new plan, which may not give them the same coverage.It's a familiar, unpleasant story shared by employees of many businesses that offer health plans, but it has a certain ironic twist when the folks who produce the bills have to turn around and pay them. It's irony that's not wasted on hospital administrators who found that when they called for bids from other insurance companies, only a couple even bothered to respond.Hospital staff members are currently enrolled with Group Health Cooperative, a Seattle-based health maintenance organization. The hospital Group Health's Option Plan. But the HMO recently told the hospital that due to increasing costs and a large number of claims during the past year, rates would be going up by about 30 percent. Such an increase, when combined with dental benefits would represent a $250,000 cost increase per year said Lisa McDaniel, the hospital's director of human services. That cost would have to be picked up by the hospital somehow McDaniel said. Employees who pay to insure their family members through the plan would also see increases. That could force some employees to pay out in excess of $600 per month to insure their families according to McDaniel.Hospital employees are some of the hardest groups to insure because they tend to be a medically-educated population who are more aware of when they need care. As a result, they use medical services and their health plan more often than many other businesses. Hospital staff members are also predominantly women. Insurance companies generally set a higher premium on insuring women than men.McDaniel is currently researching health plan options but there aren't many to explore. She said that when the hospital put their health plan up for review only Group Health and Northwest Medical Bureau made offers. Northwest's proposal was even higher than Group Health's she said.Instead, the hospital is looking at a state plan for public employees that would offer significant savings but includes fewer benefits. Under the state plan McDaniel said some individuals could save as much as $2,500 per year when compared to the proposed Group Health plan but would likely pay more for vision care, prescription drugs and some hospitalization.Our plan now is top notch, said McDaniel. No matter what we do we're going to have to make some changes. Whatever changes are made will also become negotiating points with employee labor unions as well.The big question now is whether the hospital will be allowed to join the state plan. McDaniel said the state plan does not reject many applicants but there is no guarantee.Hospital officials said they see one more bit of irony. Group Health is asking the hospital to pay more to insure its staff while at the same time, in separate insurer-provider negotiations, the HMO is proposing reductions in the rates the hospital can charge for its services. "

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